Converted lifeboat station offers an idyllic coastal retreat

The Old Lifeboat Station near Auchencairn in Dumfries and Galloway is in an incredibly scenic location, right on the water’s edge with its own slipway, and overlooking Hestan Island, as well as the Colvend Coast beyond Auchencairn Bay.

The building, which originally dates from 1884, has been converted into a characterful and comfortable home, which won an award for the Best Conversion in Scotland in 2003.

The man responsible for that project, and the current owner, is Duncan Hempstock, but his first encounter with the building wasn’t at all promising.

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He says of the lifeboat station, which had been abandoned for decades: “It was surrounded by saplings and weeds. The current owner was a neighbour and he had at one time or another kept a boat there, but it hadn’t been used for many years. And there was no access.”

The stunning location of the Old Life Boat Station.The stunning location of the Old Life Boat Station.
The stunning location of the Old Life Boat Station.

The building had last been in RNLI service in the 1930s, when the rowing boat that had been used for operations was replaced by a motor boat launched from Kirkcudbright.

Duncan, who hails from Kent, had holidayed in the area with his family since the 1960s, staying in local cottages and the nearby Balcary Bay Hotel.

As his retirement got nearer, he and his wife contemplated buying here.

One of their favourite walks around the headland brought them to the boathouse, which he immediately thought would make a wonderful home. However, he admits: “My wife was less keen, no doubt envisaging lugging suitcases a very long way from the road.”

This was in 1998 and Duncan adds: “The romance of the place really caught us, we’d never done a project before, but we thought why not have a go?”

The exterior of the Old Life Boat StationThe exterior of the Old Life Boat Station
The exterior of the Old Life Boat Station

To make the task even more arduous, before gaining possession some fishermen accidentally set fire to the big double doors at the front of the building, which put the gable end at risk. But, the first job was getting planning permission and putting in an access road.

Duncan recalls: “It took a few years, but happily in due course the council became supportive because we planned to renovate what is a listed building, and they let us have permission to open up the access. The local farmer sold us an acre and a half to put in a track.”

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Then the work started on creating a comfortable dwelling out of what was the bare bones of a boathouse.

The original structure has been extended on both sides, with the addition of a kitchen and a porch which match the original building.

The interior is quirky, each of the three bedrooms upstairs have their own staircase. Duncan says: “One of them used to house about eight tanks which stored the house’s domestic water, but – thankfully – it is now on mains water, so we don’t have to do that anymore.”

The stunning interior of the Old Life Boat Station.The stunning interior of the Old Life Boat Station.
The stunning interior of the Old Life Boat Station.

He employed local builder Michael Gaffney to project manage the work. A young friend of Duncan’s son, Alan Mazza, undertook all the joinery work, including stabilising the original huge red spruce beams, which are such a feature of the interior, and adding more.

Duncan says: “The original had a beautiful exposed wooden ceiling made from this rather rare wood, which happens to be rock hard and very resilient, so we kept as much as we could.

Once work started, the whole project took just six to eight months.

The resulting layout has a dining room, sitting room, and kitchen on the ground floor, alongside a bedroom and family bathroom. Upstairs are three bedrooms, one of which is ensuite.

The property comes with six acres of land which was has been bought in parcels over the years. Most recently, a double garage was built to sit above the house further up the hill.

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But most of the land is woodland. Duncan says: “We keep on top of it – we have plenty of wood for the log-burning stove. When we first cleared the bracken from the land, I couldn’t believe the amount of bluebells. Now we have a whole hillside absolutely covered with them in spring.

The house benefits from a very pretty garden, with a large area of decking leading from the sitting room, and having a slipway is definitely a unique selling point – perfect for launching a craft from your doorstep, or just looking out.

Exposed beams are on show in the Old Life Boat Station's living room.Exposed beams are on show in the Old Life Boat Station's living room.
Exposed beams are on show in the Old Life Boat Station's living room.

There is also an air of romance about its past as a lifeboat station, and that might be one of the reasons Duncan remains so entranced by the place. He adds: “I am an ex-seafarer, and when I came ashore I worked for a shipping company, which used to repair lifeboats.”

He and his wife lived in the house a third of the year, alternating with their home in Kent. He says: “We have come up for ten days every month throughout the year."

The couple have a gardener for the property, whose most important job is topping up the feeders for the “rather demanding” red squirrels who visit the deck. There are also a few families of deer who can be observed in the surrounding woodland, and looking out of the front window of the house also might bring you eye to eye with a seal or two.

It is now time to sell, but Duncan says: “We have had so many happy memories over our 25 years or so – the New Year’s Eve parties here were legendary.”

The Old Lifeboat Station is on the market at offers over £850,000, contact Galbraith.

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